The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) held a webinar with the UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (UN IE on SOGI), Victor Madrigal, and leaders, activists, and members of LGBTI civil society groups from different Latin American countries to discuss and better understand the current conditions amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The event, titled “The reality of the Afro-LGBI and Trans populations during the current health crisis caused by COVID-19 in Latin America,” that was held on Thursday, April 23, began with opening remarks from Mr. Madrigal, speaking about the statement on COVID-19 released by the UN Expert on March 26 and the motivations behind it. “We must have a clear understanding of when these measures have a differentiated impact on our communities and populations,” he states, explaining the need to understand the disproportionate and unequal impacts of the pandemic, as well as the importance of sharing experiences throughout communities for mutual support, and the importance of States including these communities when designing what measures should be taken.
Trans activist Santiago Balvín from Peru cited the numerous cases of violence against trans women that emerged due to the “pico y género” measure that was implemented, restricting the movement of the population based on their gender. “From the beginning of quarantine until April 10 when this policy ended, in the course of about 25 days, more than 15 transphobic cases occurred by part of the police or armed forces,” stated Balvín, also pointing out that even though the policy was repealed, in the official communication it was said to be due to the high agglomerations of women and not because of the complaints of violence and discrimination against the trans population.
Colombia has taken the same gender-based measures in different cities, using “pico y género” and leaving the movement of people in the hands of the police. As activist Victoria Daza of the LGBTI Working Table of Cartagena details, this has placed their right to food and health at risk, making it hard for the trans population to access these needs. The Ministry of the Interior promised to provide aid to LGBTI organizations in a campaign called “Colombia is with you,” but until now, no food or supplies have been received.
In other regions of the country such as the Colombian South Pacific, worries are even greater, as this region finds itself impoverished and without the necessary infrastructure to deal with a crisis of this scale. Sandra Arizabaleta from the organization Somos Identidad in Cali states that “violence and historical State abandonment have left their marks on this part of the country.” She gives the example of Tumaco where “at this time they do not have any health services to attend to people who contract COVID-19.” The projected duration of the pandemic and delay in protection of the most vulnerable populations, such as LGBTI people, is extremely worrisome for activists in this region.
Christian King, Executive Director of TRANSSA, a trans organization in the Dominican Republic, also expressed his concern about the lack of information or specific action being taken within the current conditions. “In our country they are only sharing the numbers. They do not share any information about the population or specific sectors where these people are from.” The lack of knowledge and specific legislation to protect trans people in the Dominican Republic is even more critical during times like these. No special measures have been taken to help the trans population, and policies such as curfews jeopardize their means of living.
While the majority of States have been implementing different plans to combat the spread of COVID-19, the unstable state of national politics in Brazil have left containment efforts up to the local government.
“Brazil, is one of the 4 countries in the world that ignored the recommendations of the health agencies in order to strengthen neoliberal policies, taking advantage of this moment of a world crisis to remove more labor rights, and to implement more negative measures,” said Bruna Benevides of the Brazilian National Association of Travestis and Transexuales, ANTRA.
She also outlined that underreporting cases has been a State policy used as justification to manipulate the population into believing that everything is fine. “Such policy directly affects the impoverished, black people, elderly, people with disabilities, women, people living with HIV, LGBTI+, indigenous people and others that have more risk factors due to the precarious nature of their lives. Black people are the majority among the dead and are more likely to have complications,” she concludes.
The event, that counted with more than 500 participants following through Zoom and Facebook live, brought to light the need for more action to aid members of the Afro and LGBTI communities throughout the current health crisis. The IE on SOGI ended the event stating that the IE SOGI Mandate is at the service of all LGBT organizations, encouraging civil society groups and activists to submit reports and information on the effects of COVID-19 in their home countries.
With our partners, Race and Equality urges States to include LGBTI representatives in emergency public health planning and actions to combat COVID-19, taking into account persons with diverse gender identities and their particular needs during these times. States should provide aggregated data on these populations in order to better serve the most vulnerable and marginalized, such as the Afro-LGBI and trans populations. With this, States should also take differentiated measures to attend to the needs of LGBTI persons in the informal labor market who find themselves at a higher risk for contraction.